Wednesday, July 25, 2012

High Intensity Training, Fitness and Training Time

Most coaches will argue that training time is a valuable commodity. This is especially true for college programs. In the US, the amount of time spent training is strictly regulated by the NCAA. In addition, college coaches must compete with the academic demands placed on student athletes. So, a question that is at the forefront of training is, how best to use limited training time to improve fitness as well as technical and tactical abilities. One concept that is gaining interest is the use of high-intensity training (HIT) to improve fitness. These programs require athletes to perform a few very high intensity efforts rather than prolonged, moderate-intensity exercise to improve endurance capacity. The advantage of HIT programs is the potential to affect fitness with a much shorter time requirement. A new study focused on using HIT to improve fitness in female college soccer players. The researchers found that HIT worked very well – it was as effective in improving VO2max and it required less training time compared a traditional endurance training program.
The subjects for the study were all members of a women’s Division III college soccer team (Willamette University in Salem, OR). The study was conducted over a 5 week period that coincided with their spring training season (non-competitive). Half of the team was put on a traditions endurance training program and the remainder was placed on a high-intensity, interval program.

Before and after training, each player’s maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) was measured using a laboratory-based treadmill test. Performance on the Yo-Yo endurance test was also measured. The Yo-Yo test is an intermittent shuttle run where performance is determined by the number of shuttle circuits the athlete is able to complete before exhaustion.

As for training, the two groups completed their training protocol twice per week for the five week test period. The HIT players performed five repetitions of a 30 sec maximum sprint separated by a 4.5 minute recovery. This resulted in a total training time of 25 minutes. After three weeks of training, the recovery interval was reduced to 3.5 minutes. This shortened the total training time to 20 minutes. On the other hand, the endurance training group performed 40 minutes of running at 80% of their VO2max.

The researchers found that both HIT and endurance training, twice per week for five weeks, improved VO2max by about 4%, from 50.7 to 52.7 ml O2/kg/min. It also increased performance on the Yo-Yo test by around 12%. When comparing the effectiveness of the training programs, the magnitudes of improvement were very similar. That is, both program resulted in similar gains in VO2max and Yo-Yo test performances.

The important finding of this study is that HIT elicited the same improvement in fitness with one-half of the training time. The HIT players trained for 20-25 minutes per session while the endurance group trained for 40 minutes. The authors of the study argue that this more economical use of practice time can have advantages. Given that the amount of time spend training is governed by the NCAA, spending 20 fewer minutes on fitness activities allows more time to be spent on technical and tactical training. They also point out that a more efficient use of practice time gives the players more time to focus on non-soccer activities such as school work.

The results of this study are in line with what others have found. High intensity training is a more “efficient” way of improving fitness and VO2max. Short, high-intensity efforts require less time to complete than traditional endurance training and result in the same improvement in fitness. This has led many to advocate this sort of training for team sports where practice time may be limited and/or where emphasis on individual and team skills is needed.


Rowan AE, Kueffner TE, Stavrianeas S (2012) Short duration high-intensity training improves aerobic conditioning of female college soccer players. International Journal of Exercise Science, 5: 232-238.